Today is the fiftieth anniversay of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Back in 2002 when I was teaching at the University of Alabama I went up to watch some the trial of the last of the bombers to be brought to trial. As I wrote a while back, it was a sad affair in a lot of ways. The day in court that Carol Denise McNair, Cynthia Diane Wesley, Carole Rosamond Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, and their families deserved had been put off for so long. The defendant, Bobby Frank Cherry, was in poor health. Yet after the jury returned its guilty verdict, veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, including Fred Shuttlesworth, spontaneously broke into song outside the Birmingham courthouse—the Battle Hymn of the Republic. “Glory, glory hallelujah! His truth is marching on.”
What I did not include in that remembrance was that on the drive up to Birmingham with one of my colleagues he called the judge's clerk to see about getting us admission to the courtroom. I could only hear his side of the conversation but it was apparent that the clerk wasn't quite getting why he thought we'd need a ticket or help getting in. In essence she said, "just show up." Which we did and found that there weren't a ton of other people in the courtroom. But in the relatively small audience were some really interesting people -- the president of the University of Alabama and some of the local civil rights lawyers; one of my students who was clerking in the DA's office that summer was there, too.
I happened to be working on a review of Lawrence Friedman's wide-ranging American Law in the Twentieth Century while I was watching the trial and found it somewhat disconcerting to be reading Friedman's account of the bombing while in the trial. What for Friedman -- and the rest of America -- was ancient history and an impetus to the modern civil rights movement was, for Birmingham, not quite past.